Recently I wrote Taking the Fight to the Enemy Revisited that mentioned air power concepts as they relate to information warfare. The Air Force Association just published a story by Hampton Stephens titled War in the Third Domain. I found several points quoteworthy.
When the Air Force formed Air Force Space Command in 1982, it marked formal recognition that space was a distinct operating arena. The first commander, Gen. James V. Hartinger, said, “Space is a place. ... It is a theater of operations, and it was just a matter of time until we treated it as such..."
The Air Force has come to recognize cyberspace, like “regular” space, as an arena of human activity—including armed activity. It is, to reprise Hartinger, a theater of operations...
Though Cyber Command has not yet reached full major command status, it already is providing combat capabilities in cyberspace to the unified US Strategic Command and combatant commanders, according to Air Force officials.
Cyber Command has in place systems and capabilities for integrating cyber operations into other Air Force global strike options. All that is lacking, according to one top official, are the “organizational and operational constructs” to integrate cyber ops with those of air and space operations.
The Air Force believes it must be able to control cyberspace, when need be, as it at times controls the air. The goal is to make cyberspace capabilities fully available to commanders. (emphasis added)
This last point is crucial. I believe I described it earlier, but you should recognize the significance of this statement. You can complain to whatever you degree you like that it's unfair, unjust, whatever -- the fact remains that it is the USAF's plan to be able to control this latest domain. I don't think civilians appreciate the themes with which military planners contemplate capabilities. Reading the National Military Strategy (.pdf) will provide some background. Apparently a National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations (published 2006) exists but it is not public.
“Almost everything I do is either on an Internet, an intranet, or some type of network—terrestrial, airborne, or spaceborne,” said Gen. Ronald E. Keys, head of Air Combat Command, Langley AFB, Va. “We’re already at war in cyberspace -- have been for many years.”
There's another commander stating the US is already fighting wars in cyberspace.
According to Lani Kass, special assistant to the Chief of Staff and director of the Chief’s Cyberspace Task Force:
Simply put, cyberspace has become major bad-guy territory. Air Force officials say it never has been easier for adversaries—whether terrorists, criminals, or nation-states—to operate with cunning and sophistication in the cyber domain.
Kass said there is “recognition by our leadership that ... cyberspace is a domain in which our enemies are operating, and operating extremely effectively because they’re operating unconstrained.”
At the moment I don't see a way for the USAF to accomplish its goals. I don't know if they even have the capability to execute their vision for space operations, never mind cyberspace. We're only now acquiring and exercising the capabilities to execute in the air domain. I remember being a cadet when the Air Force devised its "Global Reach, Global Power" vision. That idea came to fruition in 1996, when B-52s from Louisiana flew all the way to Iraq and back, over 14,000 miles. It's definitely not a normal method of operations, but the capability exists.
My point is that these sorts of guiding principles are not just rhetoric. It will be interesting to see how they materialize at some point in the future.